Let’s Talk Solutions Instead of Problems: Visualizing a Modernized Black House

Black House

We applaud the University’s decision to create a modernized version of the Norris Student Center. We applaud the desire for this Center to be inclusive and offer opportunities for all students and student organizations to have spaces and access to every conceivable creature comfort. Who’d want to miss out on that? Of course, that begs the question “What is to become of the Black House?”

The Black House is an icon. If Northwestern was a city, it would be among the first buildings to be granted landmark status. However, it has been neglected, and as a result, it has become underutilized. It is fair to say this is occurring at the same time the University seeks to further the cause of a “One Northwestern” campaign, which we also applaud. However, these things aren’t mutually exclusive, and we take offense to attacking the ongoing need and relevancy (and especially removing and otherwise diluting support services offered within the Black House) in the way that has occurred.

Almost 50 years later, what should the Black House represent? What should it be? Is it fair and the best course of action to simply roll it into Multicultural Student Affairs in the ways it has? Imagine if you will, an evolved Black House. What do you see? We propose the natural evolution and relevance of the Black House is to be found in three sets of activities.

Let’s make the Black House a resource center and technology hub.

Imagine if you will an evolved Black House. It doesn’t need to be a “hide-out” in the way it once was. It can be made into a vibrant center for support and resources, where full exploration and discovery of financial aid, study support, graduate school and career opportunities could occur. Imagine a modern center complete with a multimedia, Ted-quality library of videos and office hour chats featuring alumni and other professionals with students streamed over the Internet. All of this could (should!) be housed at the Black House. Students, you want to weigh the value in being a physician vs. a nurse practitioner? Listen to one of our 140 physicians weigh in on the conversation? Care to learn about the broad variety of legal professions or how one becomes a judge? We have that covered!

I. Program Development

  • Career counseling and placement services (e.g. information on internships, externships and job opportunities; information on post-graduate study and research opportunities).
  • Financial aid resource center (e.g. videos, tutorials on how to complete, external sources to discover additional financial aid with contact information inside and external to NU)
  • Graduate and professional school information center: (coordination, collaboration and information about all of the undergraduate majors and NU graduate and professional schools; multimedia sources on post-graduate job placement and career success)
  • Study center: (e.g. vehicles to simulate testing experiences and study aids)
  • Video and other multimedia library extension (e.g. live speaker series, online videos, recorded webinars in an ever-growing archive from NUBAA members and other prominent individuals)

II. Structural Upgrades to Facilitate Programming & Services

  • Computer Bank
  • Conference room with projector, screen and house AV. Room should have configurable furniture to enable multifunctional use. Expand the Black House to accommodate programming needs.
  • Dedicated office for career and financial aid office
  • Library space for resource materials such as books, videos, etc.

Let’s make the Black House the focus of expanded efforts to improve the Student Experience.

This is the real problem needing to be discussed. Let’s survey the students and identify the components of dissatisfaction and the contributors toward unique difficulties facing them. Introduce modern technology into the Black House. Expand resources to FMO satellite groups. Create culturally sensitive spaces for the newer faces of Black life on campus. Every office in the Black House not used by students should be made to have an outcomes-based approach on mentoring and providing students with coping skills and other supportive tools to success while at NU and beyond. Restore a dedicated Director of African-American Student Affairs and the support staff necessary to implement these initiatives. Most importantly, make the students part of the solution, and they will respond favorably.

I. Program Development

  • Orientation video only accessible at Black House that gives overview of campus life from various “Black student experiences.” Speakers might include Associate Provost Jabbar Bennett, Dean of African-American Studies, Martha Biondi and/or Professor Charles Whitaker. Prominent alumni such as  Harry Lennix or Jabari Asim could narrate and give a historical perspective.
  • “A Day in the Life” video where a maybe a senior who is involved in multiple things (e.g. greek life, work-study, dance marathon, etc) would video tape segments of their day (starting with their dorm, include cafeteria, trip to the bookstore or Norris, a party, etc.).
  • Additional orientation considerations could be offered featuring important University initiatives such as Study Abroad, new majors being often and highlight the “Northwestern Direction.”
  • SAW could include an orientation of Black House resources and the two videos above should be shown along with a tour.
  • Introduction of a Big Bro/Big Sis program coordinated through the Black House would go a long way in acknowledging expectations and best paths forward.
  • Create carve-out for Black Greek-letter organizations to enhance that experience in the absence of houses on campus.
  • Offices for FMO, its satellites and evolving Black organizations

II. Structural Upgrades to Facilitate Programming & Services

  • Hiring of Director of African-American Student Affairs
  • Expansion of the Black House to accommodate programming needs such as additional rooms for additional offices and private counseling offices.
  • Quiet study space
  • Private office for FMO and lock boxes for other student organizations

Let’s make the Black House the home of the NUBAA Archives.

For the first time, we have begun the process of chronicling the rich history of Blacks at Northwestern. We already have thousands of artifacts and testimonials from names you know and names you should know. Students surely would see the value in using the Black House to learn more about their culture and history on campus. The Black House should be a living monument to the 100+ year history of African-Americans on campus. NUBAA is about to formally present the proposal for formal development of the NUBAA Archives to NU; this will be shared an another time in a dedicated post. The Black House should inside provisions for rotating exhibits from the Archives.

Any subset of the above would make for a wonderful modernization of the Black House. Let’s not restrict the conversation to how offices should be shuffled around and reallocated. This message doesn’t get communicated without your active support and participation (read attendance) at the Black House Listening Sessions beginning tomorrow.

  • Session 1: Oct. 14, 12:00 – 1:30 pm Parkes Hall, Room 122, 1870 Sheridan Rd.
  • Session 2: Oct. 14, 6:00 – 7:30 pm Parkes Hall, Room 122, 1870 Sheridan Rd.
  • Session 3: Nov. 16, 12:00 – 1:30 pm Norris Center, Wildcat Room (101), 1999 Campus Dr.
  • Session 4: Nov. 20, 5:00 – 6:30 pm Scott Hall, Guild Lounge, 601 University Place

Thank you for your support of Northwestern, its students and NUBAA.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Solutions Instead of Problems: Visualizing a Modernized Black House”

  1. Is it possible and/or advisable for the Black House to be a depository of books accumulated by alumni? I have scores of books, most of which date from the 60s, that I do not want to discard but that I have nowhere to place. In the Winter of life, I like to think that some current student might find some of them useful. They range from fiction to history to sociology and more. If there is room, they could be cataloged and made available however the body feel appropriate. Thanks


    1. Hi, Floyd. In pretty short order, you’re going to be hearing a lot about the NUBAA Archives. In fact, you can read the previous post on NUBAA.org about it. I’d request that you hold onto your treasure trove until the formal request comes. Our recommendation is not to house the archive at the Black House. We are proposing that only an exhibit at a time will be placed there, and it would be managed by the staff.The archive itself will be maintained in a way similar to other artifacts and University documents in a secure location to be agreed upon. Thanks for the question.


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